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CD REVIEW: Shauna Burns - A Winter Gathering (2011)

By: Cyrus Rhodes









Artist: Shauna Burns

Album: A Winter Gathering
Label: Red Rock Music

Genre: Celtic, Orchestral, Festive Christmas Music
Sounds Like: Tori Amos, Sarah McLaghlin, Regina Spektor,
Loreena McKennitt
Technical Grade: 8/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 8/10
Commercial Value: 8/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 10/10
Performance Skill: 8/10
Best Songs: The First Noel, Carol of the Bless, White Christmas

Strengths: Instrumentation, Brilliant song Interpretation
Weakness: In your face Mix, play it safe vocal delivery




Las Vegas Pianist/Singer/Songwriter Shauna Burns releases her latest effort entitled A Winter Gathering in 2011. Understand this is really a Christmas album musical presentation. Burns is no stranger to the Music Business as this is her fifth release to date.


The CD kicks things off with a solitary intro piece entitled “Winter Star” that gently leads you by the hand into track 2 a compelling remake of the classic Christmas hymn ”Carol of the Bells.” This compelling interpretation serves up inviting instrumentation, well-crafted musical interpretation via a heartfelt vocal presence from Burns. Track 3 keeps thing moving in the festive direction with the classic remake of “White Christmas.” This piece presents impressive Cello, and Celtic Harp accents against a passionate vocal delivery from Burns. Track 4: “O Come, O come Emmanuel” shows us even more musical depth from Burns set against a grand mosaic of exotic Celtic Orchestration and exotic soundscapes. This piece showcases a truly amazing songwriting interpretation from Burns as she makes this classic hymn all her own with impressive vocal presence and well placed piano accents. As the CD slowly unfolds I can hear many musical textures reminiscent of classic vocal acts as Sara McLaughlin, Tori Amos and Loreena McKennitt. The music itself combines classic elements of Celtic Orchestra and vocal choir music headed up by Burns voice and piano. This is a perfect fit for Burns via this Holiday format which fit together like hand in glove.  The musicianship of everyone involved is clearly above the bar and what you would expect from a CD like this You will also notice lush layers musical instrumentation layered everywhere which includes exotic orchestral elements, strings, cello, percussive elements, Harp, Pipes, and impressive piano accents against lush harmonies layered everywhere. Zeroing in now on Burns – her voice goes down smooth as she makes the vital (singer to listener) emotional connection. Burns executes a few pin drop moments well clearly proving she is an artist worthy of your attention within the sonic space. Equally as impressive is some of her Piano playing. From mesmerizing “Silent Night” to striking The Gathering” this CD has something for just about everyone. This CD also presents a few instrumentals as well “Carol of the Bells “and “Luma” making for a fully loaded musical production. The CD ends with track 12 “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” the perfect finale statement for a CD of this caliber.


It’s fair to say this is one of the brightest, in your face mixes I have ever come across. Over time this production will wear on the ears and strip your senses down to their core. As a result the CD ironically lacks musical depth and is comparable to a BOLD FONT IN YOUR FACE. These types of mixes are becoming more and more popular and are really designed to maximize radio marketability. However there are pros and cons when taking this approach. If I was producing a project like this I would not have taken this approach. Burns is an impressive Mezzo Soprano but it’s fair to say she doesn’t possess a legendary vocal ability of say as Celine Dion or a Sara McLaughlin.  Throughout most of the CD it’s fair to say Burns plays it safe avoiding any serious risks that would showcase a world class vocal ability. The background fire crackling sound on track 2 is one of the cheesiest sonic effects I’ve ever heard on a musical production. "Luma" sounds like an incomplete statement to me. Drums on Track 8 are as clear as mud. Finally, there isn't a single snowflake on the front cover. With a name like Winter Gathering it's pretty much a no brainier right? This CD cover clearly misses the mark and whoever designed it wasn't thinking with their marketability hat on.


From start to A Winter Gathering by Shauna Burns does exactly what it’s supposed to - put you in a festive mood for Christmas.  It’s strong suit - how well Burns makes this Christmas classic her own via a truly brilliant musical interpretation of the songs. This is not a cheesy Christmas compilation that was cut and pasted together for the sake of Karaoke. It clearly goes beyond that. Note for note, song for song there isn’t really a weak piece on this entire catalogue. All pieces are short and sweet musical experiences, each one possessing its own signature groove and musical personality to call its own. The playing abilities of everyone involved is rock solid. Last but not least the vocal presence and impressive piano playing virtuoso of Shauna Burns just makes the whole thing work. She is an artist that clearly possess talent, but above all she knows how to play the piano, sing you a song, and occupy a very special place in your heart each and every Christmas. 


Cyrus Rhodes